A productive day

I was originally going to tweet about this. But then, I decided I wanted to throw it into my own cozy corner of the internet that I own.

Today, was a very productive day.

Today, was a very productive day, after a very long period of very very unproductive days.

Today, felt good. And I wanted to record what the last few months have felt like from the perspective of personal productivity. I suspect that for most people, a lot of things changed around the beginning of the year. And it was absolutely no different for me.

A pandemic mindset

Since the pandemic really took hold in March, I don't feel like I've been able to settle into being productive. During the first two weeks of curfew in the country, my mind was anywhere but in the zone. Mornings were spent desperately trying to make orders with whichever online business had still not filled its daily quota. Afternoons were spent receiving deliveries or looking out for vendors driving by. Cleaning items followed that. Night time was spent browsing sites trying to figure who had the daily staples required. I'm utterly grateful to my wife for bearing the bulk of the mental burden of searching for stuff. At the same time, escaping the mental pressure was impossible.

Productivity, was not an option.

In April, it felt like things were finally starting to settle. But it was still stressful. Delivery businesses were still ramping up. People we knew were still struggling. Mental peace might have been slowly returning. But true peace itself was still far away.

And then, just as it felt as if things were finally starting to come under control in Sri Lanka, the Covid cluster from the Navy took off. Lockdown continued. But we'd started finding routine. Could this be a chance for productivity? That was not to be. Between injustices being commited against minorities here at home and the police brutality and demented leadership in America, anxiety had begun creeping in again.

Unhealthy addictions

Since March, the hunger to stay on top of what was happening brought back an unhealthy addiction to the smartphone and the vices of social media. Various events in Sri Lanka, and then George Floyd's murder and the events that followed made it impossible to look away. Packaged next to the goodness of raising awareness online was the more sinister craving to experience outrage and controversy purely out of addicted interest.

Our brains are funny things. If we don't divide part of it to keep an eye on itself, it will lead us down a destructive path that can unwind years of hard work.

I was spiralling out of control.

Todo lists and guilt

Every day, I keep a todo list. I follow a variation of the bullet journal style. Tasks are put down everyday. When the day is over, you take any left over tasks, and decide where you are going to migrate them to. Some tasks go back into the monthly todo list. Some go into next day's list. Some get cancelled.

In February, I found myself simply migrating nearly all my tasks to the next day queue. Every day, I would dutifully highlight the tasks I hadn't done. Orange to indicate that they were migrated. And I'd put them down in the new day's todo list. I'd add the new todos that had come along for that day. At the end of the day, I repeated the ritual. Migrate. Don't do. Migrate. Don't do.

In March, I gave up. And till the end of June, outside of a few days, I basically free floated. I kept some pseudo todo list in my head. And I stopped caring. I couldn't care any more It was too much to think of the checklists that I had to keep abandoning. The guilt in planning a day and then watching my information addiction take over followed by me getting nearly nothing done was too much. So I gave up.

Determination and fighting back

Last month, around the last two weeks I started to seriously question myself. What use was it going to be to continue being in this state? I had to remind myself that I can't control the full state of the world around me. I can certainly impact things at a local level. But I was not going to change anything like this. At the same time, my feelings of inadequacy was something that I could bring back under control.

So I chose to focus myself there.

Around the end of June I began to organise things a bit again. I started writing my reflections again. I chose to confront my emotions at the start of every work day in the hope that I could unload my anxiety and frustrations onto the pieces of paper in front of me. Start fresh.

I stepped back and tried to forgive myself for not being as productive as I could be. I chose to change how I worked. Instead of trying to take on large pieces of work and attack them, I opted for the strategy of moving things forward 1 step at a time. Other people have written about this many times; the act of moving things forward everyday, by even just a little bit, will eventually bear fruit.

I reminded myself what it means to bring about change and that I needed to recognise when keeping up with what was happening in the world was becoming self destructive. I opted to start working within my own personal communities. I would directly message people and have frank chats with them if I saw someone saying something that didn't seem right. I started reading from more well researched healthy resources. I took it in slowly. I read deeply. Making notes. Sharing these thoughts with others. I started to disengage with content where I could only observe and be angered. I started to engage with content and people where we could collectively educate ourselves and pass change on to others.

One step at a time.

And then, I finally brought back my todo list. Slowly at first. No shocks to the system. It was brought back with a constant reminder to myself that not completing everything each day is ok. What mattered was to complete somethings.

Bit by bit. Inch by inch. Checkbox by checkbox. One day at a time.

And here we are

It is July 15th today.

For the first time since maybe February, I was able to truly own my focus. Yes, I browsed a little bit of Twitter. But I owned that time. Today, for the first time, I was able to fully take control of the monkey in my brain and bring it back under control.

Today, I started my work with a call at 5 AM. I aim to work for 8 hours of the day. No more. Sometimes less. My call was an hour long. So I started my proper day of work at 11:35 AM. I had my todo list ready and a goal to finish by 6:35 PM.

At 6:25 PM, I checked off the last item on my todo list. At 6:32 PM, I finished planning out my next day and at 6:33 PM, I shut down my computer.

It's been a long time since I've been able to mark a day as done. And it feels good. It feels good to look back at what has been a difficult time and realise how lucky I am to be able to come out of it. It's a privilege I am keenly aware of and utterly grateful for.

After nearly a month of chasing my todo lists, I finally feel like things are back under my control. And the greatest part of it all was that today did not feel like a stress in any way. It simply moved according to the way I wanted it to. Even with my son coming in and sitting at the table next to me and chattering while I worked, I felt in control.

I hope this feeling lasts. I hope I get to keep things in control for the foreseeable future. There are still many things I want to get done and I finally feel like I have the breathing space to do it. My todo list is finally a clean slate and now I get to choose how I want to fill it. And I want to fill it with not just personal items, but also items of bringing about real meaningful change around me.

Today was a productive day.

Here's to many more.

Posted on July 15 2020 by Adnan Issadeen